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Upgrades & Downgrades: AIG Officially Out Of the Doghouse

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Wall Street ratings agencies set the tone for today's stock market.

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Cheer up. Before the week's out we will get a Friday the 13th, mourn a century since the Titanic tragedy, and have to pay taxes. So Monday's market mauling will soon enough seem idyllic by comparison. (Good thing the World Happiness Report was released last week, not this.) For now though investors were left to curse the Dow's (^DJI) single worst day of the year, a triple-digit drubbing sending it down for a fourth straight session amid a post-Easter sea of red ink even Moses would have been hard pressed to part. A delayed reaction to Friday's disappointing March payroll employment report was the primary culprit, even if the separate household survey showed the jobless rate actually ticked down to a cycle low of 8.2%. This figure is derived from Uncle Sam knocking on 60,000 doors but presumably the Avon (AVP) lady wasn't home at the time, its sales staff being too busy counting winnings from last week's 21% stock surge. Yesterday alas the cosmetics company had some making up to do, tumbling 3.12% after announcing a new CEO. Other notable decliners included RadioShack (RSH), which reached a fresh multi-year trough in taking its 12-month slide to some 61.91%. Clearly their customer service needs work.

Some winners did emerge from the wreckage of an otherwise dire day. Cruise company Carnival Corp (CCL) gained 1.11%, with the world safe in the knowledge that the incompetence upon which the Titanic met a watery grave could never happen a hundred years on. Molycorp (MCP), maker of rare earth metals such as europium, zirconium, lutetium, and vanadium, rose 4.58% on Tom Lehrer's 84th birthday; you can bet the Harvard word-smith was in his element. AOL Inc (AOL) advanced 43.32% as Netscape went for big bucks - keep catnapping, Rip Van Winkle, and we'll wake you up when the year 2000 is over. Back then Apple Inc (AAPL) was unloved by the analyst community and, in the case of one brave researcher, it apparently still is. It nonetheless eked out an increase to close at a record $639.84. The Ten Commandments, as anyone who sat through the epic movie in one sitting last week can testify, is rough on the kidneys, clocking in at almost four hours. Apple's own tablet is a breeze by comparison. But buyer beware, it can also cost you a kidney. This morning in economics, analysts are forecasting an increase in February wholesale inventories at 10:00 am Eastern. Alcoa (AA) unofficially ushers in a first quarter reporting season that is expected to be no more than mediocre when it releases results after the close. Today's other announcements include Mattress Firm Holding (MFRM), Standard Microsystems (SMSC), and Supervalu (SVU).


Initiations:

Online travel industry: Priceline.com (PCLN) shares, recently trading at record highs, are picked up at Outperform by Cowen & Company, which assigns an identical recommendation on Expedia (EXPE).

TiVo Inc (TIVO): JP Morgan assigns a new Neutral on TIVO.

Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE): The stock is a Neutral at Piper Jaffray.

Fortune Brands Home & Security (FBHS): The recent spin-off is assigned a Neutral at Credit Suisse.

Foster Wheeler (FWLT): JP Morgan has a fresh Overweight on FWLT.

Jazz Pharmaceuticals (JAZZ): Shares are begun with a Buy at Citigroup.

McDermott International (MDR): The oil services outfit is a new Neutral at JP Morgan.

Penn National Gaming (PENN): PENN is picked up at an In-line by Imperial Capital, which assigns it a price objective of $40. Shares are seen as fairly valued, trading at a premium to other regional gaming operators.

Raymond James Financial (RJF): Wells Fargo resumes RJF at Outperform.

Repros Therapeutics (RPRX): The small cap is covered with a Strong Buy and $6 target price at Ascendiant Capital Markets, which expects its two key drugs in development to address a market opportunity in excess of $1 billion for each.

Medical equipment: Patterson Companies (PDCO) is picked up with a Buy and $38 target at Auriga, which has a Hold on Henry Schein Inc (HSIC).


Upgrades:

American International Group (AIG): The poster child for all that went wrong in 2008 continues its rehabilitation, being boosted to Outperform from Market Perform with Wells Fargo. Shares are up before the bell as a result.

Harley-Davidson (HOG): HOG is hoisted to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup.

Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF): The company behind both Mad Men and The Hunger Games is upgraded to Overweight at from Equal Weight at Evercore Partners.

Tech stocks: Dell Inc (DELL), Infinera (INFN), and Calix Networks (CALX) are all upgraded to Equal Weight from Underweight at Morgan Stanley.

InterOil (IOC): Shares are raised to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James.

Apollo Investment (AINV): AINV gets increased to Overweight from Equal Weight by Barclays.

Akzo Nobel N.V. (AKZOY.PK): The Dutch firm gets a Buy-from-Hold boost at ING Groep.

AeroVironment (AVAV): Shares are lifted to Buy from Neutral at Lazard.

Veolia Environnement (VE): VE is now Buy from Neutral at Nomura.

Thompson Creek Metals (TC): Deutsche Bank takes TC to Hold from Sell.

Valero Energy (VLO): VLO is added to the Top Picks Live list at Citi.

MDC Holdings (MDC): JP Morgan moves MDC to Neutral from Underweight.


Downgrades:

Allos Therapeutics (ALTH): The stock is downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Murray.

Amphenol (APH): APH is cut to Hold from Buy at Keybanc Capital.

Bryn Mawr Bank (BMTC): Guggenheim reduces its rating to Neutral from Buy.

First Horizon (FHN): Shares are downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at FBR Capital due to its perceived difficulty meeting Street earnings expectations.

Halozyme Therapeutics (HALO): HALO gets downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies.

Industrials: Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) is pulled from the Focus List of favored stocks at JP Morgan, which also cuts Jacobs Engineering Group (JEC) to Neutral from Overweight.

Merck KGaA (MKGAY.PK): The German giant gets downgraded to Underweight from Neutral at JP Morgan.

YPF Sociedad Anonima (YPF): The troubled Argentine energy outfit is downgraded by both Deutsche Bank (Hold from Buy) and Raymond James (Market Perform from Outperform.)

Salix Pharmaceuticals (SLXP): Shares are taken to Hold from Buy at Auriga.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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